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Planning guidebook to help make walking safer and more convenient

Though it's not a prescription to cure obesity or a magic wand to make traffic congestion disappear, the new Georgia Guidebook for Pedestrian Planning does provide detailed directions for administering a healthy dose of help.

The guidebook, developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the Georgia Department of Transportation, helps planners assess their pedestrian environment and prioritize projects to improve it.

Advocates of pedestrian travel say walking can help citizens and communities in numerous ways. It can decrease obesity, and therefore improve public health. Walking can reduce air and noise pollution, as well as traffic congestion and petroleum consumption. It also builds a sense of community. Also, walking requires no special training, and it's relatively cheap to implement. The guidebook explains how.

"There's something in the guidebook for everyone -- from local, regional and state planners in the beginning stages all the way to the advanced stages of developing pedestrian facilities -- and that was our intent," said Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Adjo Amekudzi, the project's principal researcher. "It was also important to us that it not be prescriptive…. There is not one model that fits all."

Amekudzi and fellow researcher Karen Dixon -- a former Georgia Tech associate professor who led the study until she moved to Oregon State University in 2005 -- worked with an advisory committee of public and private group stakeholders to establish a vision, goals and objectives for pedestrian planning in Georgia.

"Georgia must continue to develop pedestrian facilities (which include sidewalks, walkways, crosswalks and shelters) as a viable transportation choice," Amekudzi said. "We want to make walking for short trips safe and convenient and provide citizens the opportunity to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. That is our vision."

Given the number of accidents in Georgia involving both pedestrians and vehicles, safety is a high priority with regard to pedestrian facilities, Amekudzi says. From 2000 to 2003 in Georgia, 8,416 pedestrians were injured, and 624 were killed in collisions with vehicles.

Detailed in the guidebook (now available online at are four primary goals: 1) enhance safety; 2) create seamless integration of pedestrian facilities into the transportation system; 3) integrate planning and design of pedestrian facilities into transportation planning; 4) encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment for everyone.

"We understand that we cannot build our way out of congestion," said Georgia DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl. "This guidebook, which provides communities with concrete strategies to create bike and pedestrian alternatives, is critical to our overall transportation program."

Each goal in the guidebook correlates to several action items, and the guidebook provides basic planning tools to help achieve these ends. "This allows us over time to execute our goals and objectives incrementally to get to the more pedestrian-friendly environment we need in Georgia," Amekudzi noted.

The 132-page guidebook includes six chapters covering the vision and goals, planning and prioritizing projects, pedestrian facility funding, Georgia pedestrian laws, pedestrian safety and educational strategies, and land-use and zoning policy. It also cites some examples of successful pedestrian facility projects and provides a listing of other pedestrian planning resources.

Though the Peach State is the targeted end user, governments outside Georgia may find parts of the guidebook useful, Amekudzi noted.

Here are some highlights from the guidebook:

- A prioritization framework provides details on how to choose pedestrian projects. Planners should consider an area's pedestrian deficiency index factors, such as safety concerns, and pedestrian potential factors, such as centers of activity. "To come out on top, you need to fund projects where you have the highest pedestrian deficiency and potential index factors," Amekudzi explained.

- "Funds for building pedestrian-friendly facilities are still hard to come by, but the situation is getting better, thanks in part to some recent federal legislation," Amekudzi said. The guidebook cites the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). These laws make pedestrian project funding available to improve air quality and enhance surface transportation. The SAFETEA-LU law funded the Fifth Street Bridge project in midtown Atlanta to make it a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Other funding sources include the federal Safe Routes to School program, federal lands and recreational trails money, and highway safety programs. In Georgia, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the Georgia Division of Public Health fund pedestrian projects to create community improvement districts and reduce traffic congestion. Also in Georgia, local-option sales taxes can be used to fund pedestrian projects.

- A fundamental question for pedestrians is safety. A lack of driver and pedestrian education, as well pedestrian infrastructure, are often to blame for collisions between pedestrians and vehicles, Amekudzi said. Education supported by good pedestrian infrastructure will help to convince people that they can safely and conveniently walk, rather than ride, for short trips, she added.

- It's important for pedestrians and drivers to understand that crosswalks exist at all corners of intersections, even if the crosswalks are not marked. Also, at crosswalks without traffic signals, pedestrians always have the right-of-way.

- "Land use and zoning have a huge impact on pedestrian travel," Amekudzi said. "That's the core of it. We need land use and zoning that allows mixed-use development to promote a pedestrian-friendly environment." The guidebook outlines some pedestrian-related ordinances and policies.

- An urban example of a walkable community is Atlantic Station in Atlanta. It is a 138-acre, mixed-use development containing retail, commercial, and residential properties, along with public spaces. Atlantic Station is built on the former site of Atlantic Steel Company and was one of the nation's largest brownfields.

Jane Sanders | EurekAlert!
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